Bartholomew Dobbins and the 100 Face Masks, June 2020 by Louise Capon©

Once there was a tailor, named Bartholomew Dobbins, who lived in a small shop on the edge of town.  All day he sewed for the town’s people.  He hemmed pants and dresses, replaced buttons, and fixed jackets to fit like they were custom made.  He made dresses and hats and all manner of clothing.  He even made the bridesmaid dresses when the Mayor’s daughter got married.  It was a fine and fancy wedding and Bartholomew Dobbins was proud to have helped.

But one year, in the spring, there was trouble.  That winter, a wicked virus came to the town and was spreading among the town’s people.  Many folks were sick.  Some had died.  No one knew how to make it go away or how to protect themselves.  The Mayor was very worried and upset.  His job was to take care of the town and the people in it.  So, the Mayor made a proclamation that all people, young and old, should wear masks to cover their noses and mouths when they went out of their homes.  This way, they could slow down the spread of the virus and maybe stop people from getting sick.

Bartholomew Dobbins did not live in the busy part of town.  His little shop was on a quiet street, on the edge of town.  He did not worry too much about the sickness.  When he was by himself, working, it seemed that nothing was any different than usual.

The morning that the Mayor made his proclamation, Bartholomew Dobbins woke up and realized he had nothing to eat for breakfast.  In fact, all the food in his small pantry had been used up. Bartholomew Dobbins would have to go into town and go to the market for supplies.

“Well,” he said, to himself, “I will have to make a face mask, then.  The mayor says everyone must wear one to go outside.” So, he found a piece of black fabric left over from shortening some trousers and set to making a tidy little face mask for himself. Just as he was finishing, a businessman came into the shop.

“Please,” said the businessman, “you must help me.  I have an important meeting in town and have torn my pants!”

Well, this was just the sort of thing Bartholomew Dobbins did best.  The man gave Bartholomew his trousers and started looking around the shop.  Bartholomew Dobbins set to work at his sewing machine.  In no time at all, he had the man’s trousers mended as good as new.  When Bartholomew Dobbins went to the man with his mended trousers, the man was looking at the little black face mask which was sitting on the counter where Bartholomew had left it when the man came in.

“This is a very nice face mask,” said the man.  “Can I buy it?  I must have one for my meeting in town.”  The man paid for the face mask and his trouser repair and left the shop, very happy.  

Bartholomew Dobbins smiled and sat down to make another face mask from a piece of blue broadcloth.  He was very hungry and needed to get to the market.

“But,” he said to himself, “I will make two this time – just in case.”

And it was a good thing he did, because, as he was finishing the second mask, in walked a woman and her daughter.

“My daughter has popped the buttons off her sweater,” she said.  “Can you sew them back on for us, please?”  Then she looked over at Bartholomew’s work table.  “Oooh!  Are you making face masks?  What a pretty blue color! I need one for myself and one for my daughter.  We need to take the bus to music lessons this afternoon.”  So, Bartholomew Dobbins sold her the two new masks on his sewing machine.

Bartholomew Dobbins went to look in his scrap bin for another piece of fabric.  Before he got started, in walked a tall woman with six little girls.  They were all dressed in green dresses with sashes across their chests.  The woman marched purposefully up to the counter.

“You are a tailor,” she said, very loudly.  “Do you make face masks?  I need masks for all my Adventure Girls, right away!  We are going to the museum this afternoon, and they won’t let us in without them!”

Bartholomew jumped slightly.  The woman had a very direct way of speaking!  But he found a large piece of green twill shirting, and in a very short time, made seven lovely face masks for the little girls and their leader.

“Come along, girls,” shouted the Adventure Girls’ leader.  They all called out thank you and marched out of the shop.

Bartholomew Dobbins wiped his brow.  This was becoming a very interesting morning.  And he still had not gotten any breakfast.  He was about to turn back to his scrap bin, when a familiar face popped around the doorway of his shop.

“Hello, Bartholomew!” called out Mary, the baker.  Here was a face Bartholomew Dobbins was always glad to see.  “I wonder if I could ask a favor.  I need ten face masks for my bakers and assistants at the bakery.  Can you make them for me?”

“Can I?” thought Bartholomew.  But he smiled and said, “Of course!  But I haven’t had any breakfast yet!”

“No problem,” replied Mary.  “I’ll just run and get you a nice bun while you work.”  And off she went.

When she returned, Bartholomew Dobbins had a neat pile of ten masks made from striped shirting scraps.

“These are perfect,” said Mary, and she hurried back to the bakery.

As Bartholomew Dobbins munched on his fresh bun, he thought about the morning–
One black mask for the businessman.
Two blue masks for the mother and daughter going to music lessons.
Seven green masks for the Adventure Girls troop.
Ten striped masks for the bakery shop workers.
That makes twenty face masks.

1 + 2 + 7 + 10 = 20 face masks.

It had been a very busy morning.  Bartholomew went back to his scrap bin.  The black, green, and blue fabrics were gone, but there were still lots of other scraps.

At the sound of the bell over the door, Bartholomew Dobbins sighed and went to the front of his shop.  There was a very large and important looking man standing by the counter, wearing a red coat with black sleeves and gold buttons.

“The Order of the Scarlet Tanagers is in town for its annual meeting,” said the man.  “I heard you were making face masks.  We need thirty important red masks for our convention.  Can you do that?  We need them right away!” Then he flapped his arms and squawked like a bird. 

“Let me see what I have for fabric,” replied the startled tailor.  And he rushed back to his scrap bin to have a look.  Fortunately, the church had needed costumes for their pageant last Christmas, and there was a large piece of red with gold stripes left over from Joseph’s robe.

“Perfect,” said Bartholomew, and he sat down to sew.

The large man in the red coat stood and thumped his foot impatiently, never taking his eyes off the sewing machine.  At last the thirty masks were done, and, much to Bartholomew Dobbins’ relief, the man left the shop.  

“Well,” said Bartholomew Dobbins, “twenty masks and thirty masks, that makes fifty! What a busy morning. Now I will make one for me.”

1 + 2 + 7 + 10 + 30 = 50 face masks.

But, before he could get to the scrap bin, the door opened again.  In came all six librarians from the town library, then four lawyers, two rabbis, seven members of the town council, and Granny Watkins.  Bartholomew was out of black fabric scraps, out of shirting and out of gray pinstripe, and had used up a lovely bit of lavender pique.  Everyone was very happy with their face masks, but the scrap bin was getting emptier and emptier.

1 + 2 + 7 + 10 + 30 + 6 + 4 + 2 + 7 + 1 = 70 face masks.

The shop was suddenly very quiet, but not for long.  A school bus pulled up in front of the shop.  Out poured the entire first and second grades from the Main Street School.  Into the little shop filed the children and their teachers.

“We’re going on a field trip!” the children cried, jumping up and down.

“Quiet!” said the two teachers.

“Excuse me, Mr. Dobbins,” began Mrs. Thorne, the first-grade teacher.  “Could you possibly make face masks for these children, and Mrs. Brown, and myself?  We need them for our outing to the Water Filtration Plant tomorrow.”

Bartholomew Dobbins counted the children.  Twenty-seven first and second graders and two teachers.  Next, he went to his scrap box.  The pile of fabric was getting very low.  All the cottons and wool- suiting were gone.  All that was left were silks and taffetas from bridesmaid and opera gowns.

“Well….”  said Bartholomew Dobbins, thoughtfully.  “Perhaps the children will like something different and special.”

And Bartholomew Dobbins set to and sewed up a very fine bunch of face masks, indeed.  There was scarlet red satin with lace and pearls.  There was deep purple velvet and mysterious black chiffon.  There was a shiny blue taffeta with gold stars. And last, but not least, a colorful turquoise beaded net overlay for the teachers.

“Oh, my!” exclaimed Mrs. Thorne and Mrs. Brown, admiring their masks in the shop mirror.

“Yeah! Yeah! Mine’s the best!” shouted each of the children.

“Thank goodness!”  whispered Bartholomew Dobbins as they all bounced back on the school bus. “One black mask for the businessman.
Two blue masks for the mother and daughter going to music lessons.
Seven green masks for the Adventure Girl troop.
Ten striped masks for the bakery shop workers.
Thirty red and gold masks for the Scarlet Tanagers’ convention.
Six calico flowered masks for the librarians.
Four pinstriped masks for the lawyers.
Two masks of black wool-suiting for the rabbis.
Seven brown flannel masks for the town council.
One lovely lavender pique mask for Granny Watkins.
Twenty-nine fancy masks for the Main Street School.
That makes ninety-nine masks!”

1 + 2 + 7 + 10 + 30 + 6 + 4 + 2 + 7 + 1 + 29 = 99 face masks.

But still there was one more face mask Bartholomew Dobbins needed to sew.  In the bottom of his scrap bin there was only one piece of fabric left.  It was from a wedding dress of white satin with lace, sequins, and pearls all sewn in beautiful flowers, swirls, and feathers.  It made the grandest and fanciest face mask of them all.

And Bartholomew Dobbins finally went to the market.

100 Face Masks–
One black mask for the businessman.
Two blue masks for the mother and daughter going to music lessons.
Seven green masks for the Adventure Girl troop.
Ten striped masks for the bakery shop workers.
Thirty red and gold masks for the Scarlet Tanagers’ convention.
Six calico flowered masks for the librarians.
Four pinstriped masks for the lawyers.
Two masks of black wool-suiting for the rabbis.
Seven brown flannel masks for the town council.
One lovely lavender pique mask for Granny Watkins.
Twenty-nine fancy masks for the Main Street School.
One extra fancy, very special mask for Bartholomew Dobbins.

1 + 2 + 7 + 10 + 30 + 6 + 4 + 2 + 7 + 1 + 29 + 1 = 100 face masks.

Short Story-The Traveling Laptop © Elsa Wolf

Kat stepped off the platform into the first train she found, leading to her destination. It was all she could do to keep focused. She’d traveled over three thousand miles in the last four days. The trip began with a black roller bag that she’d had to replace with an obnoxious pink one soon after the initial phase of the journey. The first one lost its wheels. It was too heavy to carry with her bad shoulder, and the only available replacement made her feel uncomfortable. It was too bright. All she wanted to do was sit down in the train, but she didn’t want to sit next to the first person off the aisle. The last time she’d done that the businessman turned out to be an evangelist, who wanted to heal her by putting his hand on her injured limb. The religious conversation up to that moment was quite interesting.

This time, Kat picked a woman with short, wispy, gray hair and silver-rimmed glasses. Just for fun, she named her Mildred without asking her real name. She put her obnoxious roller bag on the luggage rack across the aisle. Gripping her laptop bag and Jane Austen hat, she sat down next to Mildred. The woman smiled and said, hello. Kat couldn’t help responding. Her American accent sounded strident and blatantly contrasted with Mildred’s refined English voice. Initially, Kat was more interested in watching her suitcase to make sure no one walked off with it. The contents were hand-crafted and irreplaceable. It was all she could do to keep her eyes open after only sleeping a few hours in the last forty-eight. Falling asleep wasn’t an option. No one would wake her at the transfer station. Finally, she resolved to try to get involved with Mildred’s crossword puzzle even though her past experiences with such things hadn’t been very successful.

“A crossword puzzle,” Kat began. “Is it difficult?”

Here we go, Kat thought. It was time to recite her two-minute monologue.

Mildred engaged. In a blind of an eye, they were successfully working on it together. Kat wasn’t sure why she was doing so well in this situation, but it helped them pass the time. About twenty minutes later, a train whizzed by on a parallel track. She immediately realized she’d hopped on the slow train when she’d paid for the faster version. This point, she brought up with Mildred who had a prompt reply. She said that train, had been broken yesterday, so this one’s better even though it has more stops and takes a little longer. At that point, Mildred didn’t go back to the crossword puzzle but asked about Kat’s journey.

“I came from the States a couple of days ago to see our daughter on the way to the Jane Austen Festival in Bath. The plane flight was an easy hop from Baltimore to Iceland and then to London.”

“Aw, London,” Mildred interrupted. “I used to live there before I moved out of the city seven years ago. I live in a seaside retirement community.” Mildred covered her mouth with her hand for a second. “Sorry, dear, I didn’t mean to switch the subject.”

“It’s all right. After two trains I got to our daughter in time for dinner. That night I received an email with a sales contract to review for our house. My husband said I could wait ‘til morning, but I was too excited to sleep. We’d been waiting almost two years for a nibble which is a long time in our neighborhood.”

“Congratulations.”

 “Thank you.” Kat smiled and kept talking. Sometimes she didn’t know when to stop. “Eventually, I went to bed but only got two hours sleep. I felt better after I finished my ‘full English breakfast’ and coffee. I love beans and toast. Not long after, my husband sent me an email saying I could go to the festival, but I’d need to cut my other plans short and come home.”

“Oh, dear, won’t that cost a lot?” Mildred smiled and one of her silver, molars caught Kat’s eye.

 “No, I bought a one-way ticket to England from the start. Unbelievably, the airline rate worked out to be the same as a round-trip ticket.”

“That was lucky,” Mildred chimed in with a tone of encouragement.

“Thanks for helping me stay awake. I feel a bit delirious from lack of sleep and I need to transfer onto another train line that’s supposed to take me to the Bath Spa station after this one.

“The spa experience is quite relaxing. If you have time, take a soak.”

“That’s a good idea, but I’m already over scheduled as it is.” Kat rubbed her hands together. “Sorry, I feel like I’m talking too much.”

“That’s all right. Let’s work on the puzzle some more.” Mildred’s eyes clenched together then flicked open. “I have a layover at the next station if you’d like to have some coffee together?”

“Oh, yes, that would be nice.”

Mildred began reading out the crossword clues. “A heavy, horned animal?”

“How many letters?”

She counted with the tip of her pencil. “Ten.”

Kat blurted out, “Rhinoceros.”

Back and forth they bantered over the answers. Kat loved the diversion. As the train pulled into the station, Mildred abruptly stopped their work, folded up the paper, and slid it into her oversized handbag.

Kat collected her cumbersome pink bag from the rack across the aisle and sorted out how to carry it with her purse, hat, and laptop case. They shuffled towards the exit, stepped off the train onto the platform, and hurried into a bricked-in waiting room near the tracks. The coffee in the shop wasn’t strong enough for Kat, but it helped wake her up a bit while they sat on cafe chairs around a small, circular table. Each of them would go on a different train when the time came. The track numbers were not far apart so keeping an eye on the clock and rails was easy. Mildred commented on the towering modern buildings under construction out the waiting-room window. They both agreed the older stone buildings with multiple chimney stacks on top where far more interesting than the glass and steel one’s going up.

After one cup of coffee went down Kat’s throat, she got another. Then Mildred began to talk about barges and how adventurous she’d felt traveling down the English canals in years past. Kat wasn’t sure how Mildred had diverted to canals, but any topic would do to keep her conscious. Five minutes before the trains were due, they said goodbye and exchanged contact information. Whether they saw each other again or not was inconsequential, but she’d always remember Mildred.

The next train was so crowded that Kat barely got the last coach seat. Thankfully, she didn’t have to stand but many others did. They crammed into the aisle within inches of her shoulder. The pink suitcase had to go between her legs, the laptop bag between her chest and the seatback of the person in front of her. It was so stuffy that her brain felt foggy. Smells of sweat and something like an old kitchen sponge gone sour filled her nostrils. After a time, the crowd thinned out. Kat moved the laptop to the empty seat next to the window. She pulled a water bottle out of her coat pocket and drank half of the contents. The fog in her head began to clear but not enough—not enough. Four stations later the announcement came; it was time to depart. The train was emptying fast in Bath. The door would close if she didn’t hurry, and then she’d have to travel another stop before returning. Not a preferred way of handling things since she had to meet her friend, Lyn, at a specific time that couldn’t be altered. Kat escaped out the door with her bag as the chimes warned everyone the train was leaving and to stand back. Around a corner she hustled, down the stairs, up the stairs, to another platform and another train. She barely made it through the next chiming door and decided to remain standing.

The train carried on a few more stops before she had to exit again. Breathing a sigh of relief, she found Lyn in a courtyard outside the station. She’d barely said hello when the realization hit her. The panic choked her throat. The laptop bag was gone. She’d forgotten it in the confusion of the crowded train. How would she find it? She didn’t know, not right away. In a short span of time, through two different train companies, she’d bollixed everything up. Traveling alone was risky when exhaustion factored in, but this kind of mishap was absurd. The fatigue from the last days had taken over her mind. She didn’t even realize she’d left it on the seat and it was right in front of her eyes. With Lyn’s calming influence, they formed a plan. Yet, Kat’s heart was pounding on over-drive. They went up to the ‘lost and found’ office at the GWR. The man behind the desk wrote down her information and told her how to contact the other train line. He said that at the end of each run the conductors walk through the trains. They clean up debris and lost items with the hope of returning them to their owners. This prospect didn’t give Kat much hope. She couldn’t imagine that there could be honest passengers who would leave her laptop bag alone rather than taking it for themselves. She hoped and prayed she was wrong since her tickets for the Jane Austen Festival were in the case along with several scrambled passwords for various online accounts. Those were the severest of the problems, the tickets could be replaced. The ticket office could look up her name and sort it out. That would be ideal; no money lost there. Once they got to the flat, she borrowed Lyn’s Tablet and went online with the intent of changing the passwords. She was still in such a panic that she couldn’t remember anything. A couple of gulps of red wine, along with breathing exercises, did the trick. Thinking was never her strong point when she was on edge.

This was the beginning of a long journey for her poor laptop. Lyn said that it would likely appear in a few weeks or not at all. Kat was devastated at the thought of losing such an expensive piece of equipment but also about losing her latest update on her novel. She backed it up frequently but hadn’t done so since the last two thousand words. Rewriting things was never easy for Kat. The festival distracted her but not enough to stop worrying. During the event, no one had reached out from the claim office with any good news about her lost laptop. With grave disappointment, Kat returned to America.

Three weeks later, finally, Kat heard from the train line. The description matched up but there was a hitch. She would have to pick the laptop up herself, or send a messenger, or have it mailed on her behalf for a hefty fee. The bag had made the rounds from Bath in the south of England all the way to London. Someone had turned it in and a conductor found Kat’s business card inside. He didn’t need to access any of the claim reports. He was her hero and soon Lyn was as well. It just so happened that Lyn would be in London the next weekend, could pick up the bag, and hand-carry it to the States in a few weeks’ time. This was most fortuitous.

The day arrived and the bag returned completely intact with the addition of an envelope.  On the piece of paper inside, she read about the journey of the traveling laptop. It went like this—

Dear Freund,

Mein namen es Jurgen.   I will speak English because I found papers in your bag in English.  German is my native language. I am from Munich. I am traveling on holiday in England. When I found your bag on the train, I was unsure of what to do. It was late at night. I took the bag with me but the lost and found office was closed. I did not want to leave it by the door. I chose to take it to my hotel. I opened the computer and turned it on. I was not surprised to find the password protection but at the same time, I wished it was not there. I wanted to know what the machine would tell me. Not to steal anything or reformat the drive for myself, but for the sake of curiosity. In the bag, I found some pages of a short story and tickets for Jane Austen. I had traveled to places Ernest Hemingway had been all over the world and heard the story of his lost manuscript. I don’t know if you have heard about this. He had gone traveling and left his most current work at home. His wife found the story on his desk. She picked up the pages and carbon copies and put them in a suitcase to take to him. She left the train without the stories in a rush to disembark.

I wonder who you are, but I think I will never know. I traveled around the country carrying your bag. I do not know why I did such a thing. I am not this type of person. Because of the Jane Austen tickets, I thought you might be a woman. I finally found your business card and your name appears to be German. I plan to take the bag to London with me and drop it off where they can get in contact with you. I am sure that is better than doing it myself. I am sorry if I have caused you any trouble. Your bag has gone to the Portobello Hotel in London with its beautiful antique and restored facility. There we (me and your laptop) met my friends for a business meeting. On the way out of town, we stopped at the Hemingway Bar on Victoria Park Road. Since you are a writer, I thought you might appreciate knowing where your laptop traveled. I write suspense books. You write literature. We are very different but maybe not so much.

I leave you both now and hope that you are reunited in time.

Yours,

Jurgen

Jgen@freenet.com

Book Review

Tales of the Alhambra by Washington Irving

This classic took time to get into even after I traveled to the Alhambra in Granada, Spain. The fortress grounds and palace were lovely. The book begins with Washington Irving arriving at the Alhambra in 1828, discusses his time there (real stories and legends), and ends when he leaves to take on a diplomatic position in London. The version I purchased on-site for 9 euros has gorgeous photographs of paintings included (ISBN; 978-84-95856-61-6). The information Irving conveyed was interesting, but for me, it was more of a study than a leisurely read.

View all my reviews on Goodreads.com

Short Story – The Event © Elsa Wolf

The flurry of the moment takes over the mood of the evening. The hall is filled with long tables waiting for the final place settings to be adjusted. Scanning the room, I see a young lady sitting at one of the tables twiddling her fingers. I realize it’s my niece, and she appears to be bored. Without hesitation, I walk over and assign her the task.

“All the tables and place settings…”

“Yes,” she smirks, “and all those chairs?”

“The chairs, yes, they are out of balance with the place settings.”

“And?”

“Please, adjust them. Use your mom’s as an example. I have to go over my introductory speech again.” I turn around. My nephew was so close I almost fell over him. The expression on his six-year-old face is pitiful. His elbow is scraped, and droplets of blood are emerging. A tear is running down his face while he politely asks for some Bactine™ and a bandage. Then he grumbles about hating winter and wanting to go back home where it’s warm. I comfort him and look beyond his sister at their father, who is standing by the main door. With long strides, he crosses the room.

“You’ll be fine, son; it’s a small injury.” He takes a small first aid kit out of his pocket and doctors the wound. “Pull yourself together. You need to be brave.”

“Okay, Daddy.” Sniffing, he dries his tears and puffs up his chest. Together they walk away. I can’t help smiling at the two of them. They are so alike.

Popping over to the front entrance, I reach underneath the table, grasp a smaller cloth of a different color, and draped it over the top of the first. This table would be for the Champagne filled fluted glasses. The distraction was probably unnecessary; the speech in my pocket more critical. So, back to it. I pulled it out, unfolded, and smoothed out the creases. Then I read it quietly so only my own ears could hear. Yet, someone chuckled and stepped away, I was not quite enough. This was the first time I’d thoroughly reviewed my script, and it came up short. I meant it to be bolder. There was only thirty minutes left to repair the damages.

Now, I’m panicking. I coax long breaths through my nostrils. This mini-crisis temporarily overwhelms me—computer, computer, where is it. Aw, the side room—I can do this with a few word changes and additions. No, I need a second pair of eyes—wait—I have a solution—where is he?

I rush into the hallway—maybe he is here—nooo—perhaps the other room where the appetizers are being served. Hurry, hurry—yesss. “My lifesaver, there you are.” I hold onto his bicep and whisper in his ear. “Sorry to interrupt your hobnobbing. This speech needs some help.”

“Yes, yes, alright.” Bill looked momentarily confused but then comes along willingly even though it’s been half a dozen years since he’s written a speech. As we walk to the computer, he read the print out of the speech while I guided him through the maze of tables by the arm.

“Thank you, thank you, Bill.”

“I can do this, no problem. The meat in the middle is great. It’s the first and last bits that need some tweaking. There lacks punch, and you only can speak for a little over two minutes on this one.”

“Oh, yes, right.”

“I want people to remember you in a positive attitude.”

“Me, too.” I try and make a joke. “Failing would be embarrassing and leave a scar.”

“Talking about a Republican president in a Democratic race sounds awkward.”

“No, no, it’s actually perfect in this context.” Bill sighed . “Give me ten minutes alone. I’ll fix this.”

“Great, off you go.” I took my own cue to leave the room as well. I needed to figure out if the kids had finished with the tables. Overseeing the room, I could see they were almost done, but one place was missing. I scooted over to the wall, picked up another chair, and place setting. This one would be set with the chair tilted against the table in remembrance of lost soldiers.

Adventures; Spain- Granada, Malaga, Madrid, Toledo, Barcelona

GRANADA – We took the ALSA bus line cross-country. Since it’s off-season, we didn’t need to purchase tickets in advance on our SmartPhones, but we did anyway and bought them two hours later than we meant to. No problem, with a translation App, the lady at the ticket booth exchanged them for an earlier bus. She spoke English but appreciated my effort and likely thought my accent was comical. Right before getting on the bus, I dropped my ticket, and it floated onto a man’s shoe. He kindly picked up his food, gingerly grabbed the ticket before it flew away, and handed it to me with a smile. I should also note that we take taxies instead of schlepping luggage to and from our lodgings (a new thing for us). Writing down the address and showing the paper to the driver while trying to speak pigeon Spanish seems to work fine. The fee is anywhere from 5 to 10 euros depending on the traffic, how many passengers are in the vehicle, and whether or not the city crossing goes through more than one zone. We considered using Uber, but the credit card we used with the US account wasn’t cooperating, so we weren’t able to take advantage of the lower costs.

The Alhambra in Granada was the main reason we returned to Granada. On our last visit, the tickets were sold out. We bought them in advance this time and had to provide our Passport number to complete the purchase. In the early morning, we walked up the beautiful tree-lined path with birds serenading us from above. The path is also lined with tall wrought iron lamps that looked like they were straight out of The Chronicles of Narnia. When we reached the Alhambra, about a half-hour before our entry time, there was a small line forming among the buildings that towered over our heads. Once inside, the interior facades are like nothing I’ve ever seen with tiles and plaster reliefs on every surface. The complex has sixty spots to stop and review with a guide/audio tour. There is no short way to explain, other than looking online at photographs or going there in-person. Another option is to get a copy of Washington Irving’s book called The Alhambra, to get an idea of what it was like in his time in the 1800s. Even all these years later, many of the things he describes are similar to what I saw. I think we could have spent the entire wandering around the complex, but we only stayed two hours. It was colder than down in town, and we hadn’t worn enough clothes. The walk down the massive hill was not quite as heart-pounding as the journey up. When we got back into town, we explored the narrow roads, some with merchants others with home, and found the Archaeological Museum. We learned it was created by the Royal Order of 1879. Prior it was an Antique’s office. Inside there are parts of armor, pottery, and statues. In the inner courtyard, decorative tiles cover the floor and the kick panel of the stair treads that I’d love to have in my house.

MALAGA–The most noteworthy site in the old town is the Cathedral (Nuestra Señora de la Encarnación; Our Lady of Incarnation) with an audio-tour well worth the time. The shape isn’t like most cathedrals. We usually only spend thirty-minutes exploring such places, but this one captivated us, and we were there for about two hours learning about the connected stories. Later in the day, we visited the Picasso Museum, which covered the stages of his work from traditional to modern in detail. I am now a fan of his work and find it inspirational. Perhaps, I’ll try my hand at art again without worrying about anyone else’s opinion for a change. All of this education made us hungry. We found the local market for some delicious food. 

Overall, in my opinion, this beach town is different from the United States as the town doesn’t feel like a beach area to me until we got down to the shore. The place reminds me of all the others in Spain, except this one has a beach a short walk away that looks nothing like the center of town. By the coast, there are several short boat trips that are available around the harbor, but we chose not to partake. There are lots of vendors and food stops as well. The most fascinating site was a tall ship called the Galileo, which is a replica of the original sailing ship and has traveled around the world 50 ports over the last few years. However, I’ll have to say, my love of walking on the beach on a cool day overtook most of the other sites. The wild parakeets and birds by the hundreds were there either flying or perching, which added to the experience. 

MADRID; Tapestry Factory. We meant to go here the same day as the Prado, but instead we spent the entire day in the Prado and missed this entirely. http://realfabricadetapices.com/en/museum/tours-and-temporary-exhibitions/

Madrid’s Prado Museum – General entry ticket also included a timed entry to a temporary exhibit with Goya’s sketchbook drawings. The line on-site was not long, so we didn’t need to get the ticket online in advance. We managed to walk through almost all of the exhibit halls on the three levels to view artistic works (paintings, sculptures, decorative arts, drawings, and prints) from all over; Spanish, Flemish Italian, German, Dutch, French. Artists that appealed to my senses were Picasso, Bosh, Raphael, El Greco, Ruben, Goya. NO Photos allowed, too bad. I like to take photos of the works and the labels next to them as a learning tool.

The Palace of Madrid – A massive establishment. I loved the room that had 2-dimensional, nature-oriented, wallpaper, and ceiling plaster designs that had been the kings changing room. Sadly, we were not permitted to take photographs of its interior. Several places we’ve been have had this restriction. I can’t figure out why. No flash makes sense. In one museum, a guard explained that if the art is less than 70 years old, it would be a copyright violation to take photos, but most things are far older. Another thought; to get photos, you have to buy a book from the shop? Truthfully, I have no idea.

Diner place in the wall https://mesondelchampinon.com/en/ We went here THREE times! The food is delicious. The establishment is fitted into a cave-wall with multiple rooms for cozy dining.

The market; Mercado de San Miguel – a rather posh selection of eats including a swordfish head on display next to a wide range of whole fish to take home an prepare. The beggars outside were desperate. If you want to give them something, make sure it’s already in your pocket, and don’t dig into your wallet or purse in front of them. Others in town have gotten creative to acquire your funds; dressing up like a Mickey mouse, posing in full make-up as a statue, or selling tissue pack & other things. There are also roving musical entertainers, who have baskets or music cases to put donations into or buy one of their CDs.

TOLEDO; There are many small places all over town that surprised us when we least expect them to appear. It’s somewhat of a treasure hunt to find everything along the narrow roads that wind between buildings. Many passages are only 6 or 8 feet across. Here are a few of things we found. Mini-Museums- Catapults (ways to breach castle walls), Brujería(witch’s use of herbs for good and evil), Knights of Templar (healers & soldiers for Christ). Each one took about 45-minutes to go through. Also, the Museum of Santa Cruz with a few El Grecos in the back behind a wrought iron gated wall are gorgeous. There is also the El Greco Museum/house at a different location. On we go…. To make up for losing the opportunity to go to the Tapestry Factory in Madrid, we found a marvelous collection of tapestries in Toledo at the Infantes Museo of Tapestries & Textiles. There were as many as six from each artist telling a story that went from one to the other. Overall, there must have been several dozen to view. This next museum is unexpectedly large; The Military Museum – goes on and on behind the excavated area. Allow hours to go through. A must-see is the El Transito Synagogue and Sephardic Museum with Moorish influence and beauty.

Toledo Cookie Quest – marvelous fun. We trekked around Toledo randomly and found a door that advertised marzipan. I felt brave as I was leading the mystery walk around town. My knee felt strong, so I lead our party of two. In the door we went, a light came on and an arrow pointed down the hall. There was a sign that said, both in English and Spanish, to ring the bell to order. Mmm, what to order; see the list on the wall. Without some hesitation, I rang the bell and from behind a door a woman’s voice emerged. I didn’t understand a word, so I told her, in Spanish, that I did not speak Spanish but English. She asked what we wanted and said to open the little door. I obliged and found a lazy-susan with a box of my selection. I replaced the box with money and closed the door. A few minutes later, I heard the lazy-susan turn, I opened the door, and my change was there. The best event of the day! https://www.instagram.com/p/BeTiae2F3Yk/? utm_source=ig_embed

BARCELONA (3rd visit) – Is within official Spanish borders but they are Castilian. They speak Catalan and Spanish. Sagrada Familia – Some might recognize this from the end of Dan Brown’s book, Origins. The beginning takes place in Bilbao at the Guggenheim Museum. None of this is spoiler information if you haven’t read. We got in today without a line. The security was tighter than the airport. The guard examined my key fob, made sure the metal in my pocket was an umbrella and told me to put the whistle away that I had fastened to the outside of my purse. The last time we came here, maybe six years ago, they weren’t so strict. Never mind. The audio tour and the grounds are magnificent. The light that filters through the stained glass is like none other. No, I should say, the place is like no other with all the organic shapes and stories portraying Christ’s life. I loved coming all those years ago, and I loved it today. It’ amazing that Sagrada will be complete on the 100th anniversary of Gaudi’s death in 2026. There was a place to sit for prayers, and I sat right down to have a few. I hope to return in the future. Each visit, I feel inspired to carry on. Check this website or others to have a look- https://sagradafamilia.org/en/home

Gaudí Architecture– On this trip we only walked by Antoni Goudi’s buildings, on previous visits to the city we went inside them. They are all fluid and organic. In the US, when we say something is gaudy, it is not a complimentary word to attribute to his name. It’s a shame because his work is fabulous. I’d love to live in a house that looks so organic with curved walls, tiles, and everything Gaudí.

Walking, walking.  Down by the marina, there are ‘super yachts’ more like cruise ship made by a company called Heesen. On the more conservative side of the marina are sailboats of more manageable sizes for self-navigation. There is a walkway around all these hosts shopping and eating establishments. There’s also a Maritime Museum and a few amusements for children.

The green parakeets that we saw in Seville and Malaga appeared again. This group had small circular tags around their necks that resembled the type one would put on a cat. They can be found in Parc de la Ciutadella, where the 1929 World’s Fair was held. We meandered through the paths on either side of a narrow grass-covered open space surrounded by closed cultural buildings. We ended up sitting by the pond filled with various species of birds, which included the parakeets who comically grabbed chunks of bread from large pigeons.

The famous Las Ramblas is worth one walk-thru to see the sale stands and places to eat with street entertainers as long as you mind your purse and wallet. During the winter, there seem to be fewer pickpockets and more vagrants who sadly are indeed the real thing. They live on a parallel street to Las Ramblas and other places in the city where they can find sheltered areas under buildings eves.

Random bits – There are a few Marijuana shops in the city, and it’s not unusual to smell the aroma in the air while randomly walking around. If you like puzzles, there’s a shop that has them from front to back ranging in designs from 500 to 40,000 pieces. There is at least one road with independent and current artist’s work displayed in galleries. Our wanders took us randomly to a large ornate metal building that housed an archaeological site, with no entrance fee, called El Born Centre de Cultura & Memória that contains the foundations of many from the 1700s market. Other places we found were the first century BC Roman Temple of Augustus columns hidden within a modern building. At one time the columns had apartments wrapped around them for the sake of history, not practicality. 

Food- There are Tapas (small plates) eating establishments all over town. Since we’ve been in Spain for quite a while, we didn’t go to many in Barcelona. It’s challenging to find places that are economical and authentic – Nola’s was delicious; we went two times. Instead of ordering from pictures on a menu, there were fresh dishes behind glass on the counter where we could make our choices. We also tried a chain called Frankfurt that features German sausages; no surprise, they weren’t as good as Germany, but they were a change of pace. We enjoyed an Asian place called Hot Pot, where we cooked our soup on a hotplate at the table with ingredients we selected from the menu (like the Melting Pot chain in Maryland where you dip/cook your fondue). Be warned Hot Pot’s hot spiced selection is scorching, order the least spicy and add spices from the optional spice buffet. My hubby was sweating and coughing from his first taste of medium hot.

The big hit in Barcelona was the craft beer establishments; particularly, one called Craft Beer and the other, Bier Cab. The latter had a viewing window to observe the chef, which was an enjoyable experience without having to pay for a ‘cooking class’ as he was quite precise in his methodology. Everything was presented on the plates like a 5-star. I could go on for pages explaining as I was enchanted. If you want a cooking class, we passed by a place that is worth looking into http://www.cookandtaste.net

SIDE TRIP; MONTSERRAT – requires a day of dedicate travel on city transportation. A ticket can be purchased for round trip travel via the information booth at Plaza D’Espana metro in BarcelonaI saw some tour-buses but don’t know anything about bus or car transportation up to the site. There are several rail-car options to choose from in the summer, but in the winter, there is only one. The green Funicular car took us up the steep hill to the monastery. Then there is a hike up to the top of the mountain. We got confused about the ticket because it was different than other metro tickets. Thus far, we just put the card in the turn-style to enter, at the exit we walked through. For this situation, we needed the card to enter and exit at Plaza D’Espana. When we arrived, there were mountains around the monastery. We tagged into a crowd of people and entered the back where the Black Virgin sat on an alter. This was quite a treat and monitored closely by the guard who tagged closely behind us and closed one door after the other as we went along. On the way, we got a quick glimpse of the inside of the church through the wrought iron gated walls.

SIDE TRIP; TARRAGONA – It’s a small town on the beach, but slightly inland it feels like a typical Old Town from any place in Spain. It’s a great place to take a break from a big city with sites, good food, and ocean walks. We stayed in an Airbnb in the square of a pedestrian zone (Plaza Uncibay) with many cafes. In the back alley, there are several pizza places as well as Moroccan restaurants. We went a few blocks away to a pizza place called Pizza Amarcord that was unlike any other. The proprietor spoke almost no English, this is unusual, and he helped us order four different samples of pizza to go with our beer and gave a complimentary shot of Lemon-cello after we ate. Hand signals, a partially English menu, and the internet helped. The reviews online were 4.6, I only mention because several places we’ve been to during this trip did not meet the rating standards that were listed, or they were out of business or closed for the winter. This particular place was just as reviewed. The proprietor was charming. I mentioned the internet; our AirBnB place in Tarragona does not have internet, which is the first time this has occurred. After getting over it, there’s more time to read or write without the internet as a distraction. I started reading The Tales of the Alhambra by Washington Irving.

Adventures; Spain-Seville, Cordoba, El Pedroso, Santi Ponce, and Guillena

Seville – I learned quickly that a sturdy pair of shoes is a must. The streets and sidewalks are all uneven cobblestones. Tapas and ice cream of any kind are available pretty much everywhere. The grocery stores and coffee shops are less than a minute from our AirBnB apartment, with everything more expensive than I expected. The apartment has a dishwasher and clothes washer but no dryer (I’d rather have a dryer and skip the dishwasher if space is the issue). However, our place is in the center of the old town on a narrow street that can barely take a car. All of the pedestrians have to put their backs to the wall when one comes along. To relax among the crowds each day, I visited the store across the street. It is a variety store for household goods with about fifty birds in cages for sale (odd combination from a sanitation POV). The ones I latched onto are the four hand-fed cockatiel babies with color combinations of green, orange, white, and yellow. It took several days for them to turn from wet, barely feathered pink blobs, to beautiful creatures. Because they are in captivity, I believe their tail feathers are not quite as long as the ones flying free around the city and in the park. Speaking of parks, we loved the Parque de María Luisa (website in Spanish – https://www.sevilla.org/servicios/medio-ambiente-parques-jardines/parques/parques-y-jardines-historicos/parque-de-maria-luisa) It is full of organized paths, water features with white pigeons, statues, and expansive landscaping with tiled or wrought iron benches placed at appropriate resting places. Through the widest areas, horses passed by us pulling tourists in carriages as well as bicycle carts with several people pedaling and electric scooters. The Parque (park), has a map on a placard to explain the routes on the 42 hectors (103+ acre) property, which opened in 1914, but it was conceived by the Duke of Montpensier and his wife María in 1848 (details can be found in Wikipedia – https://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parque_de_María_Luisa). It is located across from the Plaza de España, which is totally different and crowded with tourists. Both the plaza and the park are worth a visit.

Plaza de España– It feels like a horseshoe shape with the street going across its open end. There is a waterway within with people padding rowboats (rentable for under 10 euros) and ornate tiled bridges. Tiled cubbies with storyboards flank the plaza along with a second level of pillared passages. People mill about taking photographs. Not to be missed, the flamenco performers, bubble blowers, and sales booths along the street. As soon as I touched a sales item, the sellers were on me like flies on flypaper. I didn’t try to buy anything, but I’m guessing they would barter a reasonable price rather than have me walk away if I didn’t like their proposed cost. I did some research on umbrellas/parasols, and it seems it took a hundred years to figure out that putting wax on them deflected rain water. Anyway, the item I was looking at in the market was a lace parasol and is similar to the one that I’ve wanted for Jane Austen festivals in England (39 sterling in their shop). The one from the vendors in Seville is 20 euros, and in shops, it is from 15-22 euros. Then the dilemma pops up—where can I carry anything beyond my bare essentials. My carry-on roller bag cannot take any more items and is stuffed to the brim for our three-month holiday. I don’t want to buy another airline bag. Yet, it isn’t always possible to get the items in other cities or for reasonable prices. The lace used on these parasols and clothing is specific to southern Spain. I also want some Spanish lace, which is heavier than any I’ve found thus far in the States. The closest one, but not exact, is at G Street Fabrics in Maryland for at least triple the cost (https://gstreetfabrics.com). I could lug the things around in a sturdy plastic shopping bag and then pay the extra fees on the airplanes, but committing is difficult. It comes down to how badly do I want the items.

Sevilla Cathedral – Christopher Colon/Columbus burial site. Breathtaking architecture in ‘the largest Gothic Cathedral in the world.’ It’s on the UNESCO site list. An entrance ticket is required; the roof has a second ticket with a timed entrance. Audio guides are available. https://www.catedraldesevilla.es

Royal Alcazar – Palace of Pedro I (a Game of Thrones series location shoot). There are several ticket options depending on the crowds. January is the least congested, according to our https://www.Viator.com guide. We stumbled into this choice of entry, which was more expensive than waiting in line and going with the audio guide. We tried to buy general tickets in advance online, but we couldn’t find any the day before we wanted to go. Nevertheless, we spent hours within the ornately tiled and plastered palace. The tour covered the main building. Afterward, we walked around at our leisure within the gardens and found several peacocks who were willing to pose for photographs. It would take too many words to express the loveliness of the compound.

Plaza de la Encarnacion – contains a wooden structure known as las setas (the mushroom) by the locals and officially titled Metropol Parasol. It was designed by a German architect named Jurgen Mayer.  It’s made of wood and steel and reminds me of a giant, 3-D wooden puzzle. Underneath the structure are Roman archaeological ruins that can be seen through glass walls or accessed with a small entrance fee. At the same booth, there are tickets to an elevator that goes up to the top (5 euros). We paid the fee, had a coffee on the roof, and walked around the pathways. It was quite sturdy thankfully as I’m afraid of heights.

Flamenco Dancers – there is a museum to explain their history, but shows can be found all over town for a reasonable fee with or without a meal. We caught a show years ago, but this time we watched street performers in the Plaza de Espańa. Their dancing was just as good.

Spa offered by Aire Ancient Baths (https://beaire.com/en/aire-ancient-baths-sevilla)– A relaxing spa with multiple treatment options beyond the pools. I’ve been to three international sites over the years. Each one is different from the next. This particular one has locations in several countries that appear to be similar on the website. There were some complications with language but overall, a nice experience. It was pricey, so I only took one family member with me. A staff ushered us into the dressing room where we received a locker, rubber bottomed slip-on shoes to be worn at all times, and a towel. The layout was explained with several alcoves and floors to choose from. We had some difficulty understanding when we would be getting a massage, but another client explained that we had to wait until the staff member called our name. By the time we had soaked an hour in the water, I was so relaxed that I’m not sure the massage produced additional benefits.

Located close to the Plaza de America within the Parque de Maria Luisa are the Aquarium and the Museum of Popular Arts & Traditions (www.museosdeandalucia.es) – 3 euros per person. The art museum had a number of mockup rooms behind glass walls, showing how craftsmen’s shops were historically laid out; blacksmiths, potters, and so on. It was similar to Colonial Williamsburg with the workshops all in one zone, but in Seville there weren’t any demonstrations from artisans. Aquarium (www.acuariosevilla.es) – 18 euros per person. From the outside, the building looked small, but it wasn’t. From what I could tell, the tanks were underground. There were all the usual things one finds in such tanks in addition to discussing environmental issues. The surprise inhabitant was an octopus whose skin changing colors in unison with the passing shadows.

Carriage Rides – can be taken all over town. I had trouble figuring out the cost, but Viator looks like it’s $90 for a group of four people with a 45-minute tour.

World’s Fair 1992 site – We had fun riding rental Lime Scooters to get to the abandoned site. One hundred countries were represented. Geoffrey Morrison has a helpful link through Forbes magazine; https;/www.forbes.com/sites/geoffreymorrison/2015/10/19/seville-spains-expo-92/#2ad37ea3102f

Police presence – There are quite a few officers monitoring the city. My research indicated it is because, during the holiday season, there are a lot of random music shows, parades, and parties in general popping up all over. The police presence keeps the peace, even though they don’t intercede other than rerouting traffic/pedestrians when areas get too congested. Cigarettes – Smoking is only permitted outside, but there are more smokers than I’ve seen in any city in a long time. Sadly, my sinus’ get irritated easily.

SIDE-TRIP to Cordoba; Traveling to Cordoba by train from Seville took about 90 minutes. We walked out to the taxi stand and waited in line. People took turns getting in the taxi at the head of the vehicle line (you can’t go down to a taxi out of order, they’ll send you away).  Our driver (limited English) took us to Cabildo Catedral de Cordoba (UNESCO site as of 1984), where we paid the entrance fee (10 Euros) for a self-guided tour.  The building began its history as a Moorish mosque and later was converted to a Christian cathedral. Rick Steve’s guide to Spain has a stop-by-stop summary written up in his 2020 book on Spain. In my opinion, the center of the building was spectacular with two different and contrasting stone arched pillars throughout, along with a variety of exquisite tiles and ‘lace like’ plaster. The space left plenty of room for kneeling prayer rugs to be brought on-site by worshipers. The perimeter had alcoves with traditional Catholic alters. I was in awe of the beauty of the center hall’s simplicity and repelled by the ornate display of Christian relics (odd perception since my lineage is Christian). I was also put off by the sudden Christmas music that came on when I walked by a loud-speaker. I turned the corner to find a section in the middle of the expansive hall, behind red draping, were dioramas depicting the story of Jesus’s life. Once I got over its sudden appearance, I appreciated the intricacies of the miniature display.

Cordoba’s Roman Bridge 8th century– A site used in Game of Thrones, Season 5. Even if you aren’t a fan, the bridge is worth a walk across. It is sturdy and looks like a sidewalk from the top. There are singers, human statues, and some salespeople on the path.

In the evening, we took a faster train back to Seville that took half the time. Doing it this way cost a little more, but it’s still economical. We arrived at the station, both times, about a half-hour early to figure out how the system worked. Coming back on the 9:30 pm train required us to go through metal detectors that we didn’t have to do in Seville that morning. The town and the train station had very few places to eat, but one could get an alcoholic drink and a snack about 8 pm. This was contrary to every other place we’ve been that started super at 7:30 pm.

SIDE TRIP – El Pedrosa; The train to the small town of El Pedrosa was quick and uneventful. We chose to go to the town because we wanted to take a circular day-hikes, although longer ones are also possible. We chose to stay in a small hotel that night. The town was almost completely shut down due to the holidays. There were twinkle lights hung across the roads and a loudspeaker that played Christmas music for about five minutes at a time. We took a short hike to get our wiggles out after the time in Seville and on the train. On our walk, a large dog with a collar came out from a property and wanted a serious rubdown. She was quite humble about it, so we complied. We then had a companion for the next mile or so going up the hill and then back down again. Her owner drove up as we were passing by her home. She veered off to greet him.

The hike on the next day was 8-miles. It was within the national park but also wove through a farm with pigs, sheep, and cows, depending on which field we were traversing. Some sheep and cows had bells on their necks ranging from tiny to almost too large for the animal. The larger ones spanned from the collar halfway down their shoulder. The pigs were the largest and cleanest I’d ever seen. Some lay by the hiking path and were startled when we walked by. The heard got up quickly and jogged away, grunting their annoyance at being disturbed.

When we weren’t hiking, we were eating the local foods at restaurants with a set menu of two courses and a dessert. The price ranged from 8 to 10 euros for a set 3-course meal. The servers didn’t speak English, and the menu was in Spanish, so it helped that we knew a few words like egg, ham, and soup.

SIDE TRIP, hike – Santi Ponce to Guillena; We hopped on a bus at the central station in Seville to get to the ‘suburb’ of Santi Ponce. The bus had undercarriage storage, which is a great option for people who don’t want to lug their belongings into their seats or place them in the small racks overhead. The seats are comfortable, and no one is allowed to smoke. The bus wove through small streets so we could get a better glimpse of the countryside.

Our initial goal was to find access to the Pilgrimage route to Santiago, but we hadn’t done enough research to figure out an effective way to do this and get back to Seville in a reasonable amount of time. The route out of Seville is called The Silver Route (Via de la Plata- https://www.pilgrim.es/en/the-silver-route/), and it isn’t well-traveled. There are more miles/kilometers between towns for provisions than other routes and very little shady spots on hot summer days (it’s winter, so the heat isn’t an issue). Our hike took us several hours and traversed through farmlands on a wide unpaved road. We started late in the day and arrived in Guillena at nightfall. The bus stop is on the outskirts of town. We waited an hour in the dark. Conclusion; we should start hiking in the morning to avoid evening complications.

More to come on Spain in a future blog…

%d bloggers like this: